And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?”
And he said, “No.”
Sometimes, God does the unexpected. The Israelites, having a peaceful camp out after putting a beat down on the Amorites, are doing nothing much except enjoying some peace and quiet. Knowing the Israelites, there was probably one group or another getting ready to complain about something. Maybe the rocks were too soft for them to sleep.
Balak, the king of Moab, sees the multitude of Israelites camping out and he hits the panic button. He sends representatives to Balaam — a for profit prophet — asking the prophet to come curse the people camping out, because Balak’s army is too small and too weak. Since the Amorites had put a beat down on Balak’s father or grandfather and the Israelites had beat down the Amorites, it stands to reason that Balak might be freaking out at about that moment. The people who came out of nowhere and just kicked the tar out of the Amorites are camped on the plains of Moab near Jericho.
So the representatives come to Balaam and Balaam asks God is he can go. The first time, God says “No.” in no uncertain terms. The second time, God says that since the men came to get him, he might as well go with them. There is a condition, though. Balaam is to say only what God tells him to say. It is after this that the Angle of the LORD stands in the road and causes the donkey to veer off and generally do her level best to keep Balaam alive. She sees the Angel and Balaam — the prophet — does not. After her third successful attempt to keep Balaam from being killed, Balaam starts to really lay into the donkey and God, never One to do things the way we expect Him to, opened the mouth of the donkey.
The talking donkey is not the part of this narrative that causes me to shake my head in wonder and sympathetic shame. The part that makes me ashamed is the prophet who is so wrapped up in his anger and what he wants to do that it does not immediately catch his attention that his donkey is talking. Balaam is so focused on what he is up to — potentially dreaming up ways to curse the Israelites, since the Angel of the LORD reminds Balaam to say only what God tells him to say — that he misses the miracle right in front of him. He is so focused on how to get wealth and other things that ultimately pass away that he misses the power of God in action.
How many times has God done something just a little out of the norm — like Balaam’s donkey, who had a habit of being obedient and compliant, suddenly turning disobedient and defiant — to slow me down or prevent me from doing something catastrophically bad? That automobile breakdown or that traffic delay, have I stopped to consider that those might have been God trying to slow me down and get my attention? As I look back over my life, I can see times where God hit the brakes on things and tried to get my attention to prevent me from some act of disobedience. Sometimes, it worked. Other times, I kept right on going.
When something out of the ordinary happens, let me pause and pray and check in with God to make sure that what is happening is not an attempt on His part to get me to listen to Him and adjust my intended course of action. Sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes, God is standing in the way of the thing I am trying to do so that He might prevent me from doing something that would displease Him.
Father, thank You for those times when You have tried to prevent me from doing things that displease You or cause You pain. For those times when I have listened, I am grateful. For those times when I have ignored Your warnings, I am sorry. You have often done more than I have any reason to expect or even ask and I have, too often, not been responsive. Please open my eyes and ears and soften my heart to be receptive to You and to see the delays that You cause for what they are.